Schools notebook

Washburn teacher recognized for mental health work

TANGLETOWN — Washburn High School teacher Rod Martel was recognized for his innovative work with special education students by the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health [MACMH].

A 28-year veteran special education teacher with Minneapolis Public Schools, Martell received the Outstanding Service Award for educators at an MACMH benefit in St. Paul Nov. 7. The award, which also has a category for physicians, recognizes outstanding achievement in the field of children’s mental health.

“The award feels pretty good for me because I’m a licensed psychologist, also,” Martell said, noting that special education melds his previous career in psychology with his current work in education.

About six years ago, Martell began asking his special education students to keep a journal. That was just one of the innovative teaching techniques that earned him the award.

“I have kids write to me every single day, and I write back to them every single day,” Martell said.

He said the process can be “exhausting,” but it helps him form closer relationships with his students.

“It makes them feel like there’s one person in the school every single day they can talk to and connect to,” he said. “They tell me everything.”

Martell spent six years working with special education students at Uptown Academy before starting at Washburn this fall. Uptown Academy was an alternative high school program for students far behind in credits that closed at the end of last school year.

Martell said his own struggles in school inspired him to work in special education for nearly three decades.

Kids pick Obama

Barack Obama won Minneapolis’ school-aged demographic by a landslide, Kids Voting Minneapolis reported.

Over 7,100 students in kindergarten through the 12th grade went to the polls with their parents Nov. 4, giving Obama 87 percent of the vote and John McCain just less than 10 percent. It was the second time Kids Voting Minneapolis had youth aged 5-–17 cast a ballot in a presidential election.

The Kids Voting USA is a national movement to encourage civic engagement among young people by offering a nonpartisan curriculum in schools and promoting Election Day participation.

The national organization was founded in 1988 in a Phoenix suburb and since then has expanded to 25 states and Washington, D.C. The program expanded to Minneapolis in 2004, and also held youth election events this year in Duluth, Virginia and St. Paul.

Kids Voting Minneapolis Executive Director Roberta Worrell said turnout this year was down slightly from 2004, but higher than 2006.

Worrell said the organization’s major accomplishment was to station Kids Voting volunteers in all of the city’s precincts, except for two — Coffman Union on the University of Minnesota campus and Minnesota Veterans Homes-Minneapolis — where there are no children. Over 600 volunteers participated.

Minneapolis Public Schools endorsed the Kids Voting USA classroom curriculum, but use of the curriculum was not mandatory, she said.

Nationwide, the youth who participated in Kids Voting USA also chose Obama over McCain, though by a smaller margin: 62 percent for Obama to McCain’s 34 percent.

In Minneapolis, youth also picked Democrat Al Franken (65 percent) for U.S. senator over GOP incumbent Norm Coleman (19 percent) and the Independence Party’s Dean Barkley (9 percent).

More information on the program and full election results are available at or

Budget committee recruiting

A committee of Minneapolis residents that advises on the Minneapolis Public Schools budget is looking for new members this fall.

The Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee [CBAC] meets monthly between October and June to discuss budget issues and advise the school board on spending. Membership is open to any Minneapolis taxpayer as well as the parents of district students and district employees.

CBAC Chairman Eli Kaplan said key issues this year included ongoing 2009–2010 budget planning, potential changes in funding allocations to individual schools and spending related to the district’s five-year strategic plan.

Kaplan said the committee typically met once a month on the first or second Wednesday, with additional meetings as necessary. Peggy Ingison, the district’s chief financial officer, attends most meetings, he added.

Area C parent meeting Nov. 20

The next Area C Parent Advisory Council meeting was set for 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Lake Nokomis Community School Wenonah Campus, 5625 23rd Ave. S.

Agenda items for the meeting included a discussion of facilities and capacity planning in Area C, a portion of the Minneapolis Public Schools district that includes all of Southwest and parts of South Minneapolis. Also scheduled were a review of the results of the schools referendum and a question-and-answer session with Assistant Supt. Marianne Norris.

There was no Area C Parent Advisory Council meeting scheduled for December.

Schools notebook

Windom enters Q Comp program

WINDOM — Windom Spanish Dual Immersion and Open School became the latest school to opt-in to Q Comp, the state’s merit pay program for teachers.

Commissioner of Education Alice Seagren announced Oct. 21 Windom would join 15 other Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) sites that have already implemented Q Comp, short for Quality Compensation for Teachers. The program requires additional professional development and evaluation for teachers, but it also rewards them with additional compensation tied to gains in student performance.

Schools receive up to an additional $260 per student for implementing Q Comp. At Windom, that amounts to $95,680 for the 2008–2009 school year, the Department of Education reported.

Windom Principal Tami VanOverbeke said her staff “voted 100 percent in favor” last year of joining the Q Comp program. They will now be eligible for an additional $2,000 in performance pay for meeting specific goals for professional growth and increased student achievement.

Those goals include improving student scores on the math and reading portions of the MCA-II, a standardized test used to measure student achievement gains in Minnesota schools. The MCA-II is also used to measure school progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

In five out of the last six years, Windom missed achievement targets and failed to make “adequate yearly progress” as defined under the law. Under the law’s rules for escalating school sanctions, the school could be required to restructure or open as a new school next school year.

VanOverbeke said Q Comp was “not a quick fix” but added that she and her staff felt the emphasis on improving instruction would pay off in coming years.

As a part of its Q Comp program, Windom will begin using techniques developed through the district’s Teacher Advancement Program, known as TAP. Under TAP, teacher mentors and instructional coaches work closely with teachers on evaluating and improving their classroom instruction.

Windom teachers now meet 90 minutes every Monday for professional development,
VanOverbeke said.

It might sound like a lot more work for teachers, but Windom’s principal put another spin on it.

“I think it’s working smarter not harder,” she said.

Whittier International Elementary School and Jefferson Community School are the other Southwest schools participating in Q Comp.

Windom Parent Teacher Organization co-president Tracy Brokering said she still had a lot to learn about Q Comp. Still, Brokering, the parent of two Windom students, said it seemed like a step in the right direction.

“I think, just from a parent perspective, whatever works for teachers we would be pretty supportive of,” she said, adding that the teachers she had spoken to “sound excited” about the program’s potential.

Brokering said Windom TAP Mentor Jerry Johnson planned to attend the Nov. 17 PTO meeting to talk with parents about the Q Comp program.

Parent representatives elected

TANGLETOWN — Five representatives to the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) were selected at the Area C Parent Council meeting Oct. 23 at Washburn High School.

The new DPAC representatives are: Rebecca Gagnon, parent of a Lake Harriet Community School student; Janet Midtbo, parent of a Windom Spanish Dual Immersion and Open School student; Christine Rigert, parent of a Kenny Community School student; and Seth Kirk, who has students at Armatage Community and Montessori School and Anthony Middle School. DPAC veteran Judy MacQuade, parent of a Washburn student, was selected to serve another term, as well.

The representatives each will serve two-year terms on DPAC, a body of parent representatives who meet regularly with Minneapolis Public Schools Supt. Bill Green and district administrators to discuss and advise on district policy.

DPAC is made up of 10 parent representatives from each of the three geographic areas of the district. Area C includes all Southwest and some South schools.

Each area selects up to 10 alternates, as well.

There were six open positions for Area C this fall and only five parents running for seats, so all won a DPAC term without a vote. There is still a single, one-year term to be filled.

Parents Celia Thrall and Patty Kendall volunteered to serve as alternates to DPAC. They join current alternate Jill Fedje.

The Area C representatives not up for re-election this fall are Peggy Clark, Jean Rokke, Elizabeth Streefland and Sue Heibels.

The next Area C Parent Council meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at Lake Nokomis Community School’s Wenonah Campus, 5625 23rd Ave. S.